Ten public health agencies are calling on Major League baseball to strike out smokeless tobacco.
"If you say, 'Why did I ever start something like that?' It was .. it was baseball," said Jeff Short, a high school baseball coach who chewed tobacco for decades. NBC's Erika Edwards reports it is a habit the boys of summer often pick up when they're still boys ... Imitating their big league idols.
"When you look at a Major League dug out, and you see these players with tobacco," Short added. "First thing you think of - oh that's cool. Oh, I can do that."
About a third of major league baseball players chew tobacco. The league banned smokeless tobacco in the minors. However, the league must negotiate with its players association to issue a ban in the majors.
Now ten public health groups -- including the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free kids are calling on major league baseball and its union to turn their backs on years of tradition and agree on one thing:
"We're asking them to include a ban on smokeless tobacco on the field and in the dug outs in the new collective bargaining agreement this year," said Danny McGoldrick, spokesman for Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
First of all, smokeless tobacco is known to lead to gum disease and several types of oral cancer. The second concern is the image that's set for impressionable young fans. In fact, the use of smokeless tobacco among teen boys has gone up by more than a third since 2003 according to the Centers for Disease Control.
"You can tell when they have chew in their mouth," said Joey Sullivan, a high school baseball player. "It's very discouraging because you look up to them."
Coach Short credits his young players, and his infant son, with his decision to quit chewing.
"That's kind of teaching the wrong message if his dad's doing it. And I'm not going to let him do it," Short insisted.
He and a growing number of fans say the right message - would be to ban smokeless tobacco in the big leagues, once and for all.
A spokesman for major league baseball said the proposed ban will be up for discussion during negotiations.
Erika Edwards, NBC news.
For more information on the campaign, go to www.tobaccofreebaseball.org
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